Jul/Aug 2009 Miscellaneous

Aztec Children

by John-Michael Rivera

A-Aztec Children (Maximo and Bartola)

Aztec: Az*tec-a: a member of the Nahuatl-speaking people that founded the Mexican empire conquered by Cortes in 1519. b: a member of any people under the Aztec influence

Children: Chil*dren-a: a young person especially between infancy and youth

Aztec-Children a: curiosity


Scholia 1

Maximo and Bartola were born microcephalic. They were originally from the village of Decora in St. Salvador and entered history in 1848, the year the US-Mexico war ended and thousands of miles of Mexican lands were seceded to the US. There are two stories of their existence. The first taken from a 48 page fictional memoir published in 1850, recalling an eventful expedition in Central America; resulting in the discovery of the idolatrous city of Iximaya, in an unexplored region; and the possession of two remarkable Aztec children, descendants and specimens of the sacerdotal caste, (now nearly extinct,) of the ancient Aztec founders of the ruined temples of that country. Here Pedro Velasquez recounts the travels to a world unknown, the Aztec lands in Mexico. It is here where he finds the last two Aztecs alive, Maximo and Bartola. The second story, recounted in some encyclopedias follows the travels of Ramon Selva, a Spanish trader, who while in a village in San Salvador, found the two teenage children and saw money in their curious disposition and weight. After negotiating with their family he promised to bring them to America and cure their microphelia. Maximo and Bartola never returned to St Salvador. Instead, they were exhibited throughout the world as Curiosities: as the last Aztecs to breath. As relics of a lost civilization, Maximo and Bartola toured with P.T. Barnum for decades, and were renamed The Aztec Wonders. During and after their lifetime, their base material existence helped promote phrenology and other psuedoscientific systems of belief and aesthetics like surrealism.


Scholia II

Thus they are considered as Barbarians, as a people at the lowest level of perfection, when in reality (excluding some injustices their mode of government contained) in matters of good conduct they surpass many other nations which have great confidence in their administration... It is certainly a matter of great wonderment that, for so many centuries, our Lord has concealed a forest of so many idolatrous people whose luxuriant fruits only the demon harvested and holds horded in the eternal fire. Bernardino de Sahagun, Florentine Codex, 1675

No words can describe my astonishment, at the very first glimpse I caught of these little beings of our race in "miniature", Aztec Children, pigmies of the smallest size yet every limb and part of the body, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, in the most perfect harmony and proportion No deformity-no preturbance-no diminution of one part of the body at the expense of the another, as is seen in dwarfs-no wrinkled, parchment skin-no sign of premature decay, but the whole body free from spot or blemish, and the whole figure in the most perfectly agreeable proportion. Washington Irving, Encyclopedia of Irving, 1853

White men and women have, as we know, tenaciously persisted in their efforts to regain at last, a human face...so many strange , merely half-monstrous individuals seem to persist in empty animation, like the jingle of the music box, innocent vice, libidinous heat, lyrical fumes. Georges Bataille, Documents Encyclopedia, Aztec Sacrifice, Date Unknown

I am an Aztec Angel, criminal of a scholarly society. I do favors for whimsical magicians. Where I pawn My heart for truth. And find my way through obscure streets of soft-spoke Hara Kiri. Omar Salinas, Encyclopedia of Chicano Civil Rights, 1971

Curiosity led me to this archive, to things foundational, to people ingenuous. Ancestors/ Objects outside of myself, I have been able to stand back from afar, look at my own otherness through objects made inatament in my mind... my touch grows cold with every encyclopedia I use to frame my evidence, my criteria of existence, non essential to a fault. Like a Dr. upon the body, my archives of another people sparks a curiosity of self, of others who seem to look like me but never seem to be me, never reaching an origin of species. When will I see and feel like them. When will I know where my story begins? I continue to search, curiosity motivates my gaze upon others who talk in another tongue, who consume another life. I never understood the desire to put on the Aztec façade of my past. Instead I studied the motivation of Others who want to disappear into an originary skin. Curious to a fault. Amatl, an encyclopedia in part


Scholia III

Negative Automation: Bataille's Base Material, the new Victorian gentleman and woman, merely half-monstrous individuals, a couple on wet plate photo, glass tinged, 27 mm high, 20mm wide, gold colored brass matt, framed black, silver nitrate coated with colloidian, sepia subject—Aztec Children— frame long, standing, dark skin, dark clothes, wrinkled, half Victorian, half -monstrous, figures remain still, hunched over, him, hair black, teased perfectly, her, 4 feet tall, head small, nose large, Human figure on Jefferson Ave, Detroit, Michigan.

374, 374,374,374, three hundred and seventy four pictures. What an ugly specimen I have become, a man with a beard. I stare at the mirror before each frame, teasing my hair, teasing Bartola's hair with this old comb, flakes off the metal forks tear at her skin. She never complains. We no longer look at each other anymore. I see her only in glimpses, reflections of who we were and now are, to perfect the look of other takes time, takes money, takes imagination. What she has become in my mind is as she has become in yours now. She was and is so beautiful, like me, under this glass. I stare at the mirror one last time. The real Aztec I have become in your own image of imagination, a people I never knew, never felt. A book once told me who I was, a real scientist classified me as Aztec, a memory of conquest. Who are we now? I never think this anymore.

373,373,373,373, three hundred and seventy three pictures. What an ugly specimen I have become, a woman with a beard. I no longer stare at the mirror before each frame. Maximo teases my hair, delicate strokes from a pick tinged with rust helps the hair lift. I wonder if Maximo remembers what I once looked like, who I once was before these clothes. I no longer remember before these clothes. Him or me. They give us reports and news clippings. I no longer read them. They frame me sitting always. Sitting beneath a man I once knew. Standing now. When this ends will I still be me or the picture? We are now scattered throughout the world, silver nitrate exposures on glass, sepia refracting my thoughts through wet chemical images. I cannot find one exposure.


Addendum: Maximo and Bartola disappeared around the year 1890.


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